I shouldn’t have been surprised by the sight of a small green parrot perched on the shoulder of a man skiing past me at Whitewater Ski Resort.
“It’s just Rudy and Bill,” noted our snow host, guide George Kilpatrick. Bill is Bill the Bird, who, along with his human companion, Rudy Kraus, have been regulars at Whitewater for more than 20 years. Bill even has his own season pass, clocking more than 600 ski days at the laid-back community ski resort that’s a 20-minute drive southeast of the small city of Nelson.
The Kootenay Rockies region of British Columbia is famous for spectacular mountain scenery, idyllic hot springs and picturesque alpine towns and cities. Its reputation as a refuge for the quirky, quaint, and quixotic is equally well known to those who’ve had the pleasure of spending time here.
Real people doing real things in nature — with or without birds — is nothing new in the southeast corner of British Columbia’s Mountain Playground. The Kootenays have long beckoned winter sports enthusiasts who are eager for authentic experiences and active adventures in the alpine areas surrounding its funky ski towns and cities.
Here’s why you should plan an uncrowded escape in the outstanding outdoors in the Kootenay Rockies.
RED Mountain Resort and Rossland
RED Mountain Resort, nestled north of historic alpine town Rossland, is home to Western Canada’s oldest chairlift, officially opened in 1947. RED is a big, friendly giant; a fiercely independent ski resort that delivers 3,850 acres of pristine skiing stretched out over four peaks, putting it among the top 10 in terrain territory in North America.
The incredible ski acreage is serviced by myriad lifts (and zero lines), providing fresh turns that skiers don’t have to fight for, earning them a justly deserved claim of “No. 1 Most Acres Per Skier.”
It may take the better part of a lifetime to learn all the ins and outs of RED, so take advantage of local knowledge by booking time with a snow host. RED’s Snow Host program is free to guests. The savvy local guides are friendly and full of tips on the best runs, secret cabins, and on-mountain taco spots.
When the lifts stop, tuck into the Josie Hotel, located at the base of RED Mountain. Proudly named Canada’s Best Ski Boutique Hotel for the past two consecutive years, The Josie, Autograph Collection is a modern 106-room ski-in, ski-out property with a fabulous mix of amenities like outdoor cedar saunas, ski valet, modern fitness facility, a vibrant restaurant offering indoor, and outdoor dining, and a boutique slopeside spa.
Offering stylishly appointed guest rooms, studios, and one-bedroom suites, The Josie is an ideal choice for families, powder chasers, and groups seeking exceptional service with touches of boutique charm. Enjoy après cocktails at the Velvet Restaurant and Lounge’s 360-degree bar or take a seat in a plush booth in the dining room. Enjoy mountain views while savouring seasonal and locally inspired dishes like salt-baked beet salad, black pepper steak and mushroom risotto.
The charming town of Rossland is just 10 minutes by car from the ski resort. A bronze statue in the middle of downtown commemorates Olaus Jeldness, a Norwegian who moved to Rossland in 1896. Jeldness, who settled in B.C. to work in the region’s gold mines, stayed to enjoy the white gold falling from the sky and is credited as the pioneer of competitive skiing in Western Canada. Filled with cafés, shops, restaurants, and a fantastic local grocery store, Rossland has emerged as a highly desirable “town with a ski hill” that caters to residents and visitors alike.
Stop in for a pint of ale at Rossland Beer Co. or sip cocktails at the Flying Steamshovel Gastropub, one of the oldest in British Columbia. Prepare for a trip around Italy at Gabriella’s, a local institution. Diners travel from Lombardia to Puglia, Toscana to Calabria over an authentic six-course dinner comprised of dishes like burrata and figs, spinach cannelloni, and tiramisu from the different Italian regions where chef Gabriella Pelli Lapointe once called home.
Ready to wear a powder smile? Rossland is home to the world’s largest cat skiing operations, Big Red Cats. Spanning eight peaks and 20,000 acres of terrain, Big Red Cats offers some of the best glade and tree skiing in the world for intermediate to uber-expert skiers. If you’re up for it, cat skiing is a heart-pumping experience you’ll never forget.
Whitewater Ski Resort and Nelson
Located along British Columbia’s famous Powder Highway and an hour north of Rossland, Whitewater Ski Resort is a world-class ski destination with an authentic community vibe.
Receiving an average of 12 metres (40 feet) of fluffy white stuff each season, Whitewater’s 958 skiable hectares (2,367 acres) and 632 vertical metres (2,044 vertical feet) of uncrowded slopes are easily accessed from funky Nelson, known for its artists, quirky characters, and beautiful historic buildings.
Whitewater has no on-mountain accommodation, and focuses on what it does best, providing easy access to outstanding skiing accessible via 81 runs and four lifts, as well as five kilometres (3.5 miles) of groomed multi-use tracks for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and fat biking.
The mountain is also home to what is often referred to as the best mountain food in North America. We can thank former owner, Shelley Adams, who ran Whitewater’s famous Fresh Tracks Café, and shared her popular recipes in “Whitewater Cooks, Pure, Simple and Real”, as well as authoring five additional cookbooks.
One does work up an appetite while skiing the blues and blacks of Whitewater, and a lunch of Glory Bowls, tacos and yam fry poutine with miso gravy goes down easily at Fresh Tracks, Coal Oil Johnny’s Pub, or the Glory Lodge.
With more than 350 heritage buildings and sites, Nelson is known as the heritage capital of British Columbia. Stay at the historic Hume Hotel & Spa, built in 1899, and enjoy a fine meal accompanied by local musicians at the Library Lounge. If your trip coincides with a Tuesday, be sure to participate in the Hume’s adult-only Bingo Night at Mike’s Place Pub.
Wander Nelson’s colourful downtown and take a self-guided tour of the city’s 50 public murals, created by artists from around the world. Many of the murals have been painted during the annual Nelson International Mural Festival. You can learn more by downloading a free, self-guided audio mural tour, in both French and English.
Nelson’s food-and-drink scene is local and hyper-fresh. Stop by Broken Hill for an après of Smoked Old Fashioned or craft beer and smokehouse platters (say hello to Bruce the Bison), and follow with dinner at intimate Pitchfork Eatery, a farmer-owned restaurant that gives new meaning to organic farm-to-table cuisine. Enjoy a stroll through downtown en route to Marzano for Italian-inspired desserts, affogatos, and house-made limoncello.
With spectacular skiing, delicious cuisine, and authentic mountain vibes, enjoy a taste of the good life that awaits in the Kootenays.